How a Banana Made Me Cry
The most embarrassing and the most important story I will ever tell.
It was a particularly busy afternoon at work. I had back-to-back meetings starting from 6:30 AM and had decided to work from home for that day. I woke up wishing the entire east coast didn’t exist and was hoping that the team in the UK had left for the day. None of that had happened.
I trudged along the morning making several silly mistakes starting with forgetting to mute myself while making coffee, accidentally rebooting my computer, and forgetting an attachment on an email to some senior folks. It took me a while to settle into the day and by the time 3:00 PM rolled around, I was ready to be done. I texted my partner at the time if he could pick up something sweet on his way back, and because I was watching what I was eating, I asked him to get me some bananas.
He knew the early mornings were always a little rough on me; I am not a morning person, go figure! So, he decided to get some flowers with the said bananas and arrived just in time to put a smile on my face. I love fresh flowers, always have. I took them out of the plastic packaging, filled the vase with water, and arranged the flowers in the vase. I put the vase on the table and plucked a banana out of the bunch. I carefully peeled it and cut it into bite-sized pieces. After all the anticipation, I was about to eat the banana. I took one bite and started bawling.
It wasn’t that the stress of the day had gotten to me. It wasn’t because I had unearthed some deep-rooted sorrow. It wasn’t because I had heard some horrible news. I cried because the banana did not taste like the banana I had imagined would taste. My partner was baffled, understandably though. I cried to my heart’s content and finished eating. The rest of the day was pretty uneventful.
This is the most embarrassing story and the most important story I have told in various contexts. I was grateful to have a partner who cared. I was not proud of the way I didn’t show up for work. I, certainly, was not proud of the way I behaved. I got my period the next day and it was all clear why the previous day had gone the way it did.
I am a cis woman and menstruation is a part of me. As much as I’d like to, I cannot separate it from me. I, along with millions of others, experience a range of physical and emotional symptoms, the least of which is pain. It’s not easy or comfortable for me to discuss my shortcomings at work. I take a lot of pride in my work and ensure that I deliver the same quality every time. It pains me when I am unable to give my 100% but I cannot help biology.
I bleed for eight days; I experience 3–4 days of PMS and it takes a couple of days after I stop bleeding for my body to recover. I experience menstruation for 2 weeks per month. 50% of my time every month is spent in dealing with my body.
Most of the time, I conduct myself ‘professionally’ at work.
I understand I can mask my acne with makeup, I can take painkillers to deal with the cramps, and I can even deal with the bloating and the mood swings. I manage my life around it. So, why even bring this up?
Do I, suddenly, now, need you to care about me and your other coworkers with vagina during their ‘time of the month’? No.
Do I need the government to sanction specific menstruation leave? I’d love to, but not the point of this discussion.
Japan has had a menstrual leave policy in effect since 1947. In 1965, around 26% of women were reported to have taken menstrual leave in Japan. In 2022, that number dropped to a mere 1.9%. The main reason for women to not use their leave is to avoid having an awkward dialogue with their male boss or colleagues.
I need to be able to discuss at work what I am going through without shame or guilt. I want this conversation to be as normalized as discussing my car breaking down. I would like, one day, to walk to the bathroom with a sanitary napkin/tampon in my hand, and not hide it like I’m carrying some stolen goods. I have no bigger altruistic motive other than I would like for everyone to understand.
It’s hard being a woman in an industry that’s male-dominated. I have to fight real and fake battles for me to be taken seriously. I have never spoken up about how menstruation affects me. I cannot admit to a ‘weakness’ willingly that could be used against me. But this conversation deserves a platform. I need to say this, and I need to be heard.
I bleed and I need my workplace to be a safe zone.
Please check out this amazing writer Terence Kong